United front key in fight against drugs
Drug abuse is something we often imagine takes place in the back streets and alleyways of deprived neighbourhoods where malign influences stalk the lives of young people.
But as shock statistics obtained by this newspaper reveal, it is a problem that is also seeping into the classrooms.
In the past five years almost 700 pupils have been suspended from Northern Ireland schools for drug-related offences.
Most worrying of all, a small number of those were pupils in primary schools.
The days when all that parents had to worry about was their children nipping behind the mythical bike sheds for a clandestine cigarette seem now like halcyon days indeed.
Drug use and abuse is a practice which knows no social or economic barriers and, as the heads of three Belfast schools which have combined to highlight this plague note, it is but one of the plethora of pressures facing teens in the modern world, many of them transmitted via social media.
It is equally true that this is a problem that requires a cohesive, broad-front approach. Schools can attempt to educate young people on the dangers of drug abuse, but if that was all that was needed then the problem would not exist, or at least not anywhere near the scale which now confronts society.
We all know, as do the young people, that drugs can kill. We have seen episodic tragedies where maybe two, three or more people have died within a short period of each other as the result of taking drugs.
Parents need to play their part as well in influencing their children to avoid dabbling in this deadly habit. And the schools and parents must also use the professional services which are available to add further advice, or even treatment, to children thinking of taking drugs or addicted to them.
The schools are right to take a zero tolerance stance on drug offences within their boundaries. Pupils must learn that actions have consequences and, ultimately, a short period of suspension from a school could be a valuable lesson.
It is also a much preferable option to a potential criminal conviction, which could really blight a pupil's future.
As recent deaths have proved, abuse of prescribed drugs is as dangerous as that of illicit drugs, and it is evident that there is an almost endless supply of substances available and, therefore, a lot of temptation. Young people need help rather than simply judgment.